Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday announced his opposition to a planned mosque near ground zero, becoming the latest Republican leader to place the project on the national political stage. ~The New York Times

Whatever else one wants to say about the proposed Islamic center or the Cordoba Initiative, one thing that ought to be obvious right away is that this is a matter to be decided by New Yorkers, especially by the people who live in the immediate vicinity. The local community board supported this project almost unanimously, which should make the protestations of a politician parachuting in from the other side of the continent as irrelevant as they are ridiculous.

I do see how the building project might be seen as provocative at first, but it is actually quite hard to see how the project is an insult or such an “intolerable mistake” that it merits denunciations from national political figures who have zero connection to the place. Because of the 9/11 attacks at that location, many people seem intent on treating what happens there as something that affects the entire country, but it doesn’t. It is conventional to refer to it as “sacred ground,” as Palin does, but it is actually the site of an atrocity, not a place where miracles were performed or one where relics are laid to rest. Commemorating the people who were murdered there is right, but treating it as a locus sanctus with its own religious (or in this case anti-religious) significance is frankly very strange. Conservatives certainly don’t have to like an organization advised by the likes of Karen Armstrong, but they should be able to see that opposing this project doesn’t really make any sense.

As I said earlier this year:

The greatest danger all along has been that we would destroy or corrupt our institutions and our values out of an irrational exaggeration of the threat posed by jihadists, and that we would make this even worse through a widely shared blindness to the consequences of our national security and foreign policies. One reason anti-jihadist commentary has seemed less and less persuasive to me over the last decade is that anti-jihadists have done nothing to avoid these dangers and have done all that they could to make them worse.

Anti-jihadists keep making the same errors over and over. Instead of exploiting differences between jihadists and non-jihadists, among different kinds of Islamists, and between different groups of jihadists, anti-jihadists have been perfectly content to roll all of them into a single “Islamofascist” menace. That artificially inflates the strength of actual jihadist enemies by lending credibility to their propaganda, and as a result it makes jihadist causes more appealing. In this case, anti-jihadists are compounding their error by confusing the equivalent of Muslim ecumenists with hard-line Islamists. That is exactly what Gingrich does when he claims that the project is a “a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites” in the face of demands from aggressive Islamists. It’s not just that anti-jihadists are conflating any and all Muslims together here, but they are vilifying as aggressors some of the least aggressive Muslims around.

It is telling that the best Palin can come up with to justify her opposition to the project is that the organization’s lead cleric, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, referred to U.S. policies as accessories to the crime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That was not the most politic thing for a Muslim cleric to say at the time, but he was not saying that the “blame be placed on the innocents.” Rauf seems to have been saying that the U.S. government contributed to the chain of events that led to the attacks. To the extent that U.S. policies provoked blowback in the form of the attacks, he was basically correct. No less significant is the fact that Palin refers to the blockade of Gaza as justifiable in the same article in which she refers to the building project as intolerable. According to Palin, the immiseration of over a million people through deliberate economic warfare and collective punishment is perfectly all right, attempts to bring an end to that immiseration are wrong, and building a structure on legally purchased private property with the approval of the large majority of the area’s residents is intolerable. Perhaps the only thing worse than these warped judgments is the pretense that Palin is the voice of “common moral sense,” when she is actually representing the lowest common denominator of shameless demagoguery.

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